Competitive Balance in Athletics


While most research on elite sport success focuses on sport policy factors or the explanatory powers of macro-level factors such as wealth and population, sporting success of countries is also determined by the competitive environment of a sport. This paper identified trends in competitive balance in athletics at world championships and Olympic Games between 2000 and 2015. Using Spearman rank correlations between multiple indicators of competitive balance and the passage of time, a systematic decrease in competitive balance was found for athletics in general, men’s and women’s competition. At discipline-specific level, divergent trends in competitive balance were identified. Based on top-8 point market shares, women’s sprint/hurdles, long-distance running and race walking became systematically more unbalanced, while the medal competition in men’s long-distance running became significantly more balanced. This study informs policy-makers on shifting opportunities for success caused by dynamic changes in the competition and the systematic reduction of competitive balance in specific disciplines.

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